Endurance Theater: “Life and Times, Part 1″

life_and_times nature theater of oklahoma

Life and Times (at the Public Theater) is likely to send you down a domino line of responses—

  1. How cool!
  2. Those actors—what stamina!
  3. This audience—what stamina!
  4. Screw stamina, I want out.
  5. …but this is kind of amazing…
  6. …why am I crying?
  7. INTERMISSION?! The show’s not over?!

And—repeat! repeat! repeat!

Phew, right?

What show could be so strange as to conjure such schizophrenic feelings? What kind of a varied, diverse script could create such a roller coaster of an experience?

Something fascinatingly repetitive, banal, and mundane, that’s what.

A Soho Rep/ Nature Theater of Oklahoma production at Under the RadarLife and Times is the musicalized result of a phone conversation between NTO company member Kristin Worrall and Life and Times directors Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper. As here represented, Worrall’s narrative—the story of her life—features stories and memories, but also anecdotes, tangents, and asides, with every “um,” “y’know” and “like” left intact. (It’s a verbatim-musical technique Adam Cork and Alecky Blythe used to different effect in the National Theatre‘s London Road—read about that production HERE.) Life and Times is broken into episodes; four of a projected sixteen are now in rep. I attended Episode One.

For three and a quarter hours, Worrall’s meandering, shuffled speech is set to cute, sometimes touching melodies played on piano, xylophone, flute, and ukelele, all sung by an ensemble of remarkable endurance (several actors almost never stop moving). Their movements usually match the pedestrian nature of the libretto: They bounce up and down, up and down, side to side, side to side; they add a spin, and an occasional choreo number; then it’s back to the bouncing. There are a few props (red balls here, yellow frisbees there), and their arrivals qualify as major events in an otherwise steady visual sphere.

Life and Times, Nature Theater of Oklahoma

But what of it?

Plays, and entertainment, usually live off revelation—the introduction of a new character, say, or the discovery of whodunnit. It’s a steady stream of new information that keeps an audience engaged. Life and Times discards with this MO from the first, and instead buries you, pebble by pebble, under the weight of repeated detail and repeated movement.

Occasional glimmers of transcendence burn through, but they feel more flukey than planned, and before they even start to fade, it’s back to the hops and the monologues, back to little tales of friendships and lunchtimes and parents and obsessions.

These pebbles don’t mean much on their own. But collectively, over the hours, they start to coat you, like so many layers of wax coating a wick; before long, a candle has appeared; before long, you feel, somehow, very different.

Why? You’ve had no choice but to bend to the will of the performers—the room is unequivocally theirs, and if you’re to survive, you have to get on board with them. You have to. Without knowing it, you adjust. Minute by minute, in a process only achieved through the arduous accumulation of time, you almost become one with them.

In this way, Life and Times becomes a case study in the strange, cool bond that can grow between performer and viewer: Even though you’ve not set a foot onstage, you feel like you have. You’re exhausted, they’re exhausted. It’s theatrical empathy, brought about by some of the strangest means I’ve ever encountered.

Just make sure to stretch at intermission.

Life and Times, Episode 1
The Public Theater/ Under the Radar/ Soho Rep/ Nature Theater of Oklahoma
Conceived and directed by Pavol Liska and Kelly Copper
Original Music by Robert M. Johanson, Julie LaMendola, and Daniel Gower
More info HERE.

Watch excerpts from Episode 1 HERE

photo (above) by Reinhard Werner-Burgtheater; photo (middle) by Markus Scholz; photo (below) by theater-words; pictured: the beautifully renovated Public Theater.

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LIKE WHAT YOU SEE? YOU MIGHT ENJOY…
Alas, It’s True: We’re Gonna Die — thoughts on Young Jean Lee’s Cabaret
Tyvek and Gaffe Tape — the SITI company tears it up in 
Under Construction

public theater renovated renovationIMG_3171

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Oh, for a Muse of Pixels…

Charles Edwards and Eve Best in rehearsal for “Much Ado About Nothing”

Shakespeare is taking to the airwaves…

Not to be outdone by the National’s NTLive, the Globe Theatre in London is inaugurating its own theatrical broadcast season this fall. It’s called “Globe on Screen,” and will feature All’s Well That Ends Well, Much Ado About Nothing, and Doctor Faustus, beamed to movie theaters around the world.

NT Live has shown wonderful (if unavoidably watered down) productions, so here’s hoping Globe on Screen follows suit. As for me, I’ll be at Much Ado for Eve Best’s take on Beatrice. (Can I get an “Amen,” “Nurse Jackie” fans?)

It’s interesting how little hang up the Brits have about this theatrical broadcast thing. The National and the Globe aside, they’ve also got DigitalTheatre.com, a kind of iTunes for filmed versions of plays. Producers from the Royal Court to Sonia Friedman have shows available for rent or purchase, and while the venue (your computer screen!) isn’t ideal, it’s better than nothing.

PBS’s “Great Performances” excepted, American theater is much more strictly limited to its in-the-flesh audience. What’s behind the holdup—union craziness? inadequate funding? lack of demand? What do you think?

In the meantime, check out Globe on Screen trailer, below:

Photo by Marc Brenner

Rising to New Hyt[ner]s

Anglophiles rejoice: British theater’s resident badass, The National’s Nicholas Hytner, gets the John Lahr treatment in this week’s New Yorker. The piece—unsurprisingly fun and dishy—is a thrill, but it also confirms the worst second-fiddle insecurities of stage-loving Americans, i.e., that the Brits really do have this whole “theatre” thing figured out. (C’mon—any country that manufactures an institution as endlessly brilliant as The National, not to mention the rest of the London scene, is pretty much unimpeachable.)

Read the full piece to get your theatrical salivary glands going, but here are a few takeaway quotes I took a shine to, as Sir Hytner would say.

Hytner is all about scale. Lahr writes, “To this day, Hytner does not like to stage plays about family situations, he has never directed Pinter or Chekhov and has mostly stayed away from twentieth-century realism. ‘I don’t respond to, and certainly would not like to direct, plays which involve an interior journey only,’ he told me.”

Theater is an alternative to the real family drama Hytner faced as a child: ” ‘What I do now, in part,’ he told me, ‘is to help create (if only temporarily) stable families, which can play happily with the most outlandish forms of emotional anarchy, all the too-hot-to-handle stuff. In the rehearsal room and in the theatre, there is nothing but relish for every kind of craziness, every grief, every danger, every cruelty, every joy. ‘ “

Queen Elizabeth is a War Horse fanatic: After meeting “Joey,” the puppet-star of the show, at a Royal Horse Artillery event, QE2 requested his “company for a private screening of Steven Spielberg’s film version of War Horse at Windsor Palace … The invitation was later rescinded when the event was changed, but the offer itself was news, a victory for the power of the dramatic imagination.”

photo credit: The Guardian

The Best of 2011!

Lay on the eggnog! Toss the confetti! It’s time for the 2011 superlatives! Huzzah! This year’s winners of the internationally renowned theater-words awards are listed below, roughly in the order they opened.

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BEST CASE FOR THE SURVIVAL OF THE WELL-MADE PLAY:

Good People, MTC/Broadway

Here’s how it goes: There’s an interesting lead character who wants something that she has to fight hard to get. A shocking setup, I know, but we Aristotelians in the audience at David Lindsay-Abaire’s latest were giddy at the elegance and payoff of this perfectly crafted and relevant class drama.

BEST REMINDER THAT TONY KUSHNER ROCKS AND TOTALLY DOESN’T CARE ABOUT NON-COMMERCIAL TITLES:

The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures, the Public Theater

Mr. Angels in America’s four-hour behemoth stood proudly on its own, complicated terms: Spectacularly performed and directed, it simultaneously made you uncomfortable and blissed out—not exactly an easy combination.

[Read more...]

Report from the Capital

Hear ye, hear ye! I come with word from the mainland!

London, that is. New York might flatter itself the center of the universe, but it’s the British First City that can lay true claim to that most exclusive of titles: Play Capitol.

A certain kind of play, that is – one that’s smart, sharp, political, thorough, current, historical (or at least aspires to be), and comes served in plummy, accented tones which cover all manner of sins.

The most exciting, anglophilia-inducing entrée of my recent trip to England was “London Road,” a new, verbatim musical playing the National’s Cottesloe Theatre. Its subject – the murder of five prostitutes – is conventional enough stuff (!), but it’s the telling of this tale that elicits those wonderful shivers signifying the arrival of the New.

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